GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) No. 9 Florida likely will be without two of its best players to open Southeastern Conference play Saturday.
Coach Dan Mullen said Monday that elusive receiver Kadarius Toney will miss “a couple of weeks” because of a left shoulder injury and speedy cornerback CJ Henderson is doubtful to play at Kentucky (2-0) because of a sprained left ankle. Mullen added that he won’t put Henderson on the field “unless he’s 100% healthy.”
The two starters – both wear No. 1 because of their play-making ability – were injured during a 45-0 victory over Tennessee-Martin.
Toney took a hit on his left arm late in the first quarter, walked off the field in pain and eventually headed to the locker room for tests. Henderson tweaked his left ankle while covering a receiver in the second quarter, limped into the locker room and later returned to the sideline wearing a walking boot and using crutches.
They should be back for the meat of Florida’s schedule in October. The Gators (2-0) host winless Tennessee and lower-division Towson in September before facing Auburn, LSU and South Carolina next month.
Florida also believes it has the depth to handle their absences. Redshirt freshman Jacob Copeland is expected to step in for Toney, and either Kaiir Elam, Jaydon Hill or Chester Kimbrough – three true freshmen – will fill in for Henderson.
Toney has three receptions for 72 yards this season, including a 69-yarder for a score in the opener against Miami, and the kind of moves rarely seen at Florida since Percy Harvin’s departure in 2009. He also returned kickoffs.
“It’s definitely big,” fellow receiver Josh Hammond said. “KT does a lot, just the way he was able to move and make plays and make people miss. We used him in a lot of different ways.”
Copeland was a highly touted signee in 2018 who tore meniscus in his right knee last summer and missed most of his first season. He replaced Toney against the Skyhawks and caught three passes for 23 yards and his first collegiate touchdown.
Teammates went wild congratulating him on the field and sideline.
“I think he did a good job when he got the ball in his hands,” Mullen said. “I was pleased with that. He’ll continue to grow.”
Henderson was named to the coaches’ All-SEC preseason team after notching 38 tackles, seven pass breakups, three sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles as a sophomore in 2018.
“It’ll be tough,” fellow cornerback Marco Wilson said. “That’s my right-hand man. Not having him out there, it sucks, but it gives those young guys an opportunity to get in a real game against an SEC opponent so that’ll be good for them. I’m sure he’ll be out helping them all week and getting them prepared for the game.”
Elam recorded his first collegiate interception against UT Martin, and Hill made a touchdown-saving tackle in the game. Kimbrough, though, was the first one off the bench following Henderson’s injury.
“One of the things that we talked about was getting them all in the game very early,” Mullen said. “Not just, `Hey, we’ll get a lead and put them in.’ They started right in the second series; we started rolling those guys through.
“I think they gained that knowledge and that experience of being out there on the field playing with the (first-team) defense, so that’s going to help them moving forward.”